Virginia Gov. Signs Abusive Driver Law Repeal

The daunting fees on abusive Virginia drivers are officially a thing of the past. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed legislation repealing them Thursday.

The repeal, passed as emergency legislation by the General Assembly earlier this month, took effect the instant the governor signed the bill around 12:30 p.m.

Legislators in both parties clamored to end the fees that started at about $1,000 and ran as high as $3,000 after Virginia residents last summer angrily protested an exemption from the fees for nonresidents.

The version introduced by Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, was the first bill filed this year -- Senate Bill 1.

"The stake is in the beast's heart," Houck said in a telephone interview after his bill and companion legislation by Del. Timothy D. Hugo became law.

Hugo said the legislation was flawed from its inception, but it became reviled publicly after Kaine removed a provision from the legislation last spring that would applied the fees to all egregious drivers, regardless of where they live.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to what passes the General Assembly, but on this one, they paid attention," said Hugo, R-Fairfax County.

Kaine called for its repeal in January after reports that the fees came nowhere close to generating their expected $65 million a year for highway maintenance and highway deaths continued to mount.

Through February, abusive driver fee collections statewide totaled $6,459,450.07, said Gordon Hickey, the governor's press secretary.

"After six months of implementation, it was clear that the fees did not improve the safety of Virginia highways," Kaine said in a statement his office issued announcing his signature.

Kaine's signature means:

--Refunds from the state are on the way to people who have paid all or part of the fees, which normally are collected over three years.

--Any orders from courts to pay abusive driving fees are now void, although other fines and costs from a traffic offense must be paid.

--Drivers licenses suspended solely for failing to pay an abusive driver fee will be reinstated free of charge at any Department of Motor Vehicles office.

The charging of "civil remedial fees" was one of three prominent fixtures in the 2007 transportation funding law that have since been voided.

Regional packages of higher taxes and fees for highway projects in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads were struck down last month by the Virginia Supreme Court. The court ruled that the taxes were unconstitutional because they were imposed in both regions by unelected authorities.

Lawmakers will attempt to reconstruct the regional transportation authorities and consider a new statewide highway maintenance funding plan in a special legislative session Kaine intends to call later this year.

"This was simply the wrong way to go about funding transportation. And today is the day we correct all that," Houck, D-Spotsylvania, said in Kaine's news release.

The legislation's intent was to make reckless driving, driving while drunk, hit-and-run offenses and vehicular felonies cost-prohibitive and dedicate fees collected from those offenders to the state's ever-growing need to maintain and repair more than 110,000 miles of roads.

The fees were collected in addition to some of the highest fines in the nation, court costs and even the jail time that some traffic offenses carry. Because the state Constitution directs money from fines to public education, the legislation designated the surcharges as administrative fees so that the revenue could be used for transportation.

Since administrative fees lack the force of law that fines do, however, it became impractical and legally questionable whether nonresident violators could be forced to pay them. The threat of withholding driver's licenses could compel Virginians to pay up.